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Tipsheet

So, the Chinese Spy Balloon May Have Been Carrying Explosives

Screenshot via KSVI-TV

After finally shooting down the Chinese spy balloon on Saturday, the U.S. government provided more information on what they've learned since the surveillance craft was sent crashing into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina. 

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According to General Glen D. VanHerck, commander of United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the spy craft did have some ability to steer itself but largely relied on high-level wind currents to move along. 

He also said China's spy balloon was more than 200 feet tall, carrying a payload that was similar in size to a smaller passenger jet that weighed more than "a couple thousand pounds."

VanHerck revealed that the Pentagon assessed the payload may have contained explosives "to detonate and destroy the balloon" if China deemed it necessary. 

In the end, the United States took the balloon down, creating a debris field of around 1,500 square meters in about 50 feet of open Atlantic water. 

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According to VanHerck, currents in the area have caused some difficulties with recovery of debris, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) are coordinating with U.S. vessels to collect and catalog debris. There's still a lot of the payload yet to be recovered and analyzed, so there's likely to be even more revelations in the days ahead — even if civilians aren't privy to it. 

Some pieces of the spy balloon may wash up on American shores in the coming days, bringing a warning from VanHerck that any civilians seeing ChiCom flotsam should avoid it and contact law enforcement to arrange for recovery by the proper authorities. 

Taking a step back, VanHerck also attempted to explain why the balloon was left to drift over the continental United States for days before action was taken to down the balloon — rather than before it was over the continental United States, namely ICBM silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. "It wasn't time," VanHerck said as to why the Chinese spy balloon was not downed when picked up over Alaska. 

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The NORAD/NORTHCOM commander explained it was his "assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America...and therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent."

So, a Chinese spy balloon with unknown intentions and capabilities entering U.S. airspace doesn't constitute hostility? I'm sure Beijing will be thrilled to learn this. 

Amid claims from the Biden administration that Chinese spy balloons were aloft over the United States repeatedly during the Trump administration — which the 45th president and senior members of his administration have disputed — VanHerck seemed to confirm the presence of spy balloons from China over U.S. between 2017 and 2021. It's just that "we did not detect those threats," VanHerck claimed, calling it "a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out." No kidding. 

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So, if the United States didn't know that balloons were over the U.S. previously at the time they supposedly prowled our skies, how do we now know they were there at all? As usual, VanHerck refused to say how such a conclusion was reached. 

So yet again, more questions than answers remain after the latest update from the government that promises its citizens transparency and trust. 

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